Wilkinson, Renae (2018). Parental loss and well-being across the transition from adolescence to adulthood. 2018 Add Health Users Conference.
Although the death of a parent is most likely to occur when children are middle-aged, an important minority of individuals experience parental death during adolescence or young adulthood. Research investigating the effects of a parent's death in these earlier life stages shows that such "off-time” deaths are especially consequential for the mental and physical well-being of affected children. While numerous studies examine the effects of a parent's death on young children, few focus on these effects on adult children, particularly adults who experienced such an event as adolescents or younger adults; even less is known about how these effects fare over time. This study seeks to address these issues using longitudinal data spanning the adolescent to early-midlife adult stages. Utilizing Waves 1, 3, 4, and 5 (Sample 1) of Add Health, I examine the impact of a parent's death during adolescence or young adulthood on the mental and physical well-being – specifically, self-assessed health, depressive symptoms, cigarette smoking, and alcohol abuse – of bereaved children as adults. Given a typically strong life course attachment to both mothers and fathers, I expect the death of a parent will negatively impact the psychological well-being and physical health of adult children. In keeping with prior studies examining gender differences in the effects of parent loss on well-being, I expect the death of either parent to have a greater negative impact on women than men. I also expect the death of mothers will negatively affect the well-being of bereaved daughters and that the death of fathers will negatively affect the well-being of bereaved sons. Preliminary analyses show that experiencing parental death is associated with worsened mental and physical well-being in young adulthood. Considering sex of deceased parent and bereaved child separately, mother loss lowers self-assessed health and father loss increases depressive symptoms for bereaved children, and daughters suffer worsened mental and physical well-being following parent death. When sex of both bereaved child and deceased parent are considered together, mother loss affects lowered self-assessed health and father loss is associated with increased depressive symptoms and smoking for bereaved daughters. This study's preliminary results suggest that deleterious effects of parent loss are reflected more in women's well-being reports than men's, but that these dynamics may change over time.
2018 Add Health Users Conference
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